Israel offers to evacuate babies as major Gaza hospital under heavy bombardment

‘The only safe option to save these babies would be for Israel to cease its assault,’ health official says

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Sunday 12 November 2023 19:53 GMT
Inside Al-Shifa hospital as Israel continues to strike Gaza

Israel offered to evacuate premature babies from major hospitals in northern Gaza, which remained under heavy bombardment on Sunday.

Residents reported heavy airstrikes and shelling overnight on Saturday which continued throughout the day, as Israel accused Hamas of concealing a command post inside and under al-Shifa hospital – without providing any evidence. The allegations were denied by Hamas as well as hospital staff.

Speaking from inside al-Shifa, where the Gaza health ministry says 1,500 patients remain, spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said Israeli fire was “terrorising medical officials and civilians alike”. The Palestine Red Crescent Society also announced that the al-Quds hospital in Gaza is “out of service and no longer operational” due to power and fuel outages.

Newborns are placed in a bed after being taken from incubators at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital during a power outage

A plastic surgeon in the hospital said bombing of the building housing incubators had forced them to line up premature babies on ordinary beds, using the little power available to turn the air-conditioning to warm.

“We know this is very risky,” Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati told Reuters. “We are expecting to lose more of them day by day.”

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said on Saturday Israel’s military would help evacuate babies from the hospital at the request of staff there. Mr Al-Qidra said that of 45 babies in total, three had already died, and that they had not been told how to get the babies to safety.

In response to the hospital coming under intense fire, Hamas said it was suspending hostage negotiations, a Palestinian official briefed on the hostage talks told Reuters.

Al-Shifa hospital has been under heavy bombardment overnight and on Saturday

Hospital director Mohammad Abu Selmeyah told Al Arabiya television that there was no safe passage out, as Melanie Ward, the CEO for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) said the organisation was “deeply concerned” by “uncritical media reports” regarding the Israeli military’s statement to evacuate premature babies.

She said: “The transfer of critically ill neonates is a complex and technical process which MAP has been working to develop in Gaza. With ambulances unable to reach the hospital – particularly those with the skills and equipment needed to transfer these babies – and no hospital with capacity to receive them, there is no indication of how this can be done safely.

“The only safe option to save these babies would be for Israel to cease its assault and besiegement of al-Shifa, to allow fuel to reach the hospital, and to ensure that the surviving parents of these babies can be reunited with them.”

A Palestinian woman, who was being treated at al-Shifa hospital, moves south to avoid the Israeli airstrikes

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said on Sunday that Israel had offered fuel to al-Shifa hospital, which suspended operations after running out, but said – without evidence – that the militants had refused to receive it.

Mr Netanyahu was asked by NBC News whether Israeli allegations that Hamas had a command post under Gaza’s main hospital justified jeopardising the lives of sick people and babies.

“On the contrary, we offered actually, last night, to give them enough fuel to operate the hospital, operate the incubators and so on, because we [have] no battle with patients or civilians at all,” Netanyahu said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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